Saying “No” to the NSA

by Mark T. Mitchell on August 13, 2013 · 8 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Here’s a piece encouraging people and companies to resist encroachments by the NSA. Consider these examples:

Already companies are taking their data and communications out of the US.

The extreme case of fighting is shutting down entirely. The secure e-mail service Lavabit did that last week, abruptly. Ladar Levison, that site’s owner, wrote on his homepage: “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision.”

The same day, Silent Circle followed suit, shutting down their email service in advance of any government strong-arm tactics: “We see the writing the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now. We have not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now.” I realize that this is extreme. Both of those companies can do it because they’re small. Google or Facebook couldn’t possibly shut themselves off rather than cooperate with the government. They’re too large; they’re public. They have to do what’s economically rational, not what’s moral.

Interesting reflection on size and morality at the end of that last paragraph.

Question: has anyone reading this ended their relationship with Google or Facebook, etc. because of what we’ve learned about the NSA?

 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Brian August 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm

“Google or Facebook couldn’t possibly shut themselves off rather than cooperate with the government.”
It seems to me that this is completely the opposite of true. Google or Facebook are the ONLY ONES who could fight this. They’re Too Big To Suppress–is the government really going to shut either of them down? Of course not. The fact is that those and other big companies are completely in bed with the government, and always have been. It’s a wonderfully symbiotic relationship. For both of them. For the rest of us? Not at all clear.

“Question: has anyone reading this ended their relationship with Google or Facebook, etc. because of what we’ve learned about the NSA?”
No one who matters. Remember that YOU are not Google’s or Facebook’s customer. YOU are their PRODUCT. Their customers are advertisers, the government, etc.

avatar Alberto Hurtado August 13, 2013 at 1:38 pm

But the ethos at Google and Facebook is hardly one of privacy—their own terms of service basically let them do whatever they want with all the information they collect about you. Otherwise, they would not be able to monetize your every valuable click. I doubt the government needs to strong arm them much—just give them a good reason. It’s a cut from the same cloth.

Would I like to abandon Google and Facebook? For sure….but I’m not convinced any option out there is much better.

avatar Claire22 August 13, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Unfortunately, as we contemplate the liberty-for-security bargain we’re being offered by our government, our human brains are wired to make a terrible miscalculation:
–>”This is Your Brain on Terrorism” http://libertymcg.com/2013/07/23/this-is-your-brain-on-terrorism/

avatar Jason Peters August 14, 2013 at 1:19 am

Sorry to be obtuse, but what are Google and Facebook again?

avatar Siarlys Jenkins August 14, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Nice one Mr. Peters.

Remember that YOU are not Google’s or Facebook’s customer. YOU are their PRODUCT.

That’s generally true when a for-profit operation offers something for free. You can come in for free because the entity giving away the free product can sell you to their real sources of revenue. If they can’t make a living that way, they will eventually put up a paywall.

avatar Thomas McCullough August 15, 2013 at 7:26 am

You are not being truthful, Mr. Peters. You are tickled pink to be obtuse.

avatar Chris Travers August 18, 2013 at 4:29 am

I have not. I use a lot of Google services for a lot of things. However, my use of these has changed. Facebook, I use as I always have, which is not what people usually use it for.

Facebook is a good tool for marketing oneself. This means effectively, speaking in the public square. I am not comfortable with the idea of the government listening on all of it, but in the end of the day, it is public information. My general rule is to post everything publically and not say anything I would not say in public. I think that’s a good rule and it has been my rule for a long time. The NSA I suppose doesn’t even need special access. They can see.

For Google though, I do use it for blogs (again publically available). I also use it for some email. I use it for some voice. But these revelations have caused me to rethink some of this. I would really like to start a secure voice communications business built to actively resist central wiretap efforts (the FBI has worried about such things for a while, but now they and the NSA have given real incentive for ordinary people to support such an endeavor). Similarly a secure email service would be helpful but it would have to be designed in certain ways.

In all these cases metadata might still be exposed. One can’t protect metadata in the way one can protect content. This makes the social graph still visible which is a problem, but one could make it effectively impossible to get the content of the communication without compromising the endpoints. One might be able to have something like a system inspired by Tor for email (onion routing between email servers), but for voice communications I am not sure that is practical.

avatar dave wa;sh August 18, 2013 at 6:41 am

Well I don’t know. I assume I would have to go back to buying books and newspapers with cash. I make the assumption it’s just as easy – if not easier – to monitor banking activity. And I’d start writing letters again. I still have some stationary.
And come to think of it, I do some of those things anyway. But that’s not the thing – the thing is, what a waste of time, monitoring all my calls and emails. Colossal waste of time and resources. I remember some series of articles a decade or three ago debating a change in the intelligence services, a switch from relying on people to relying on data. It took a long time to train a spy. A long time and a lot of money, and there were a lot of folks who thought it too old fashioned.

So data won. And you always want more data to make certain you are covering everything, but it seems to me that all this does is make the haystack bigger. So I see it, for the most part, as a waste of time and money on a scale that’s really only possible to achieve in D.C. If I remember the reports Snowden made a good amount of money wasting his time monitoring our email, and I believe we’ve hired a whole lot of folks to do just that.

The real problem we have is instead of Kennan we’ve got Wolfowitz. Though I am being grossly unfair to Wolfowitz. It’s a group effort.

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